Record of the month: “Spring Rain” by Samuel Blaser

Samuel Blaser's Spring RainBlaser trills and sways with a wonderful, inebriated tone
Samuel’s opening notes of ‘Jesus Maria’ emit a tone of skewed warmth, imperfect but aglow. What follows is an almost heartbreaking conversation between Blaser, Russ Lossing whose piano notes fall as clear spring raindrops, and the ghostly double bass of Drew Gress. Gerald Cleaver locks into this sensitivity brushing drums or rustling cymbals and I drifted into a meditation that I didn’t want to leave. It’s a gorgeous piece written by Carla Bley and was featured on the Jimmy Giuffre 3‘s album Fusion, 1961. Spring Rain is a tribute to Giuffre, specifically his now-revered, explorative work with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow and combines covers with original compositions in a conducive listen.

Lossing makes the difference in ‘Missing Mark Suetterlyn’: as Blaser trills and sways with a wonderful, inebriated tone, Russ brings the double joy of piano and keyboards (he plays Minimoog, Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer on this album). His electronic runs and chord stabs funk it up, space it out and take us into a thrilling, lawless landscape. All the time Cleaver is finding off-beats with laudable subtlety; he’s finely integrated but always notable.

A warm ’60s jazz homecoming
This track leads straight into the lucid melody of ‘Temporarily’ (another Carla Bley composition). There’s a sense of the recognisable here, like a warm ’60s jazz homecoming. Blaser hits the spot in the way a trumpet can – with soulful, cool sensibilities. Spring Rain has been directed by Robert Sadin, a classical conductor (a vital point as there are flavours of classical expressionism in Blaser’s playing) who also arranged and produced output such as Gershwin’s World by Herbie Hancock. From the musical themes to the sequencing, this feels a quality production.

I adored Blaser’s short solo ‘Homage’, its romantic grief like a modernist ‘Last Post’. If it was played with Blaser’s late manager, Izumi Uchida in mind, I can’t think of a more touching goodbye. ‘The First Snow’ is a free-for-all improv that again shows how this quartet is greater than the sum of its parts. They entangle themselves yet create space for ideas to breathe a fresh air.

Blaser: “Beautiful melodies and no boundaries”
If I’m honest I don’t find the trombone an easy listen, but the combination, especially with Lossing’s exquisite electronic touches, creates both an engaging tension and harmony. Blaser says, “I want people to know that there is jazz, blues, classical music, beautiful melodies and no boundaries,” and maybe that’s why I like this album. However I also think taking Guiffre as inspiration has given Blaser permission to incorporate five interpretative covers as well as provide a fertile direction for composing.

The Giuffre 3 are now recognised for their crucial contribution to free jazz, but disbanded in 1962 after the avant-garde album Free Fall and a gig where they earned 35 cents each. I’m certain there are quite a few musicians out there now who can relate to that.

Spring Rain will tour in November and December 2015.
Whirlwind Recordings

Sophie Hunger “SUPERMOON”

Cover_SophieHungerMuch has been written about Sophie Hunger‘s stellar credentials: polyglot singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, film-maker, the only Swiss artist ever to play Glastonbury, etc… Yet, visually speaking, there’s little hint that she’s one of Switzerland’s most incisive, defiant and successful artists. Watching some of her live footage on YouTube, I was struck by how demure her physical appearance is; she could easily be mistaken for a young graduate turning up for an administrative internship at the local bank. I mention this simply because after listening to her fifth studio album, SUPERMOON just released on Two Gentlemen, I realise that she is indeed establishing herself as a heavyweight on the Swiss alternative pop scene and personally find her lack of super-sized-me visual representation very refreshing. A woman of substance. Like a tough hand in a velvet glove, Hunger’s musical approach often seems understated but is as tough as a big slap when you decide to pay attention.

Uncompromising, intimate, bewitching

The LP was recorded, mixed and mastered in a variety of international locations, hinting at a healthy investment of the part of her record company and a musical confidence of knowing who was going to bring out the best in her sound. SUPERMOON bears many her usual trade marks: uncompromising, intimate, bewitching. Inspired by a trip to the Golden Gate Park museum in San Francisco, the moon takes centre stage as muse in this work and sets the haunting, floaty, echoey tone throughout most of the 12 tracks.

It’s a generally sparse, languid, introspective work that to its credit doesn’t feel over-produced. Space is indeed the place. The title track is all gentle folk guitar and echo-chamber vocals, languid and contemplative with beautiful harmonies that soon seep in and have you looking at the earth from her dark, lunar perspective.

A perfectly lilting, sombre pace

Melodically beautiful and emotionally rich ballads are plentiful. ‘Die Ganze Welt’ being a prime example of a perfectly lilting, sombre pace that is cut through by her sensitive vocal limpidity. ‘Fathr’ is also a stand-out slowie, wonderfully uplifted by divine string arrangements and again a peg on which to hang a silvery vocal delivery full of depth and feeling. Footballer/actor, Eric Cantona makes an unusual appearance as her erstwhile lover in the duet ‘La chanson d’Hélène’ and together they make a decent enough job of this cover version originally done by Romy Schnieder and Michel Piccoli – possibly a strategic move to please Sophie’s large French following.

The potential to be a screaming smash hit single

Thankfully, it’s not all liquid, languid grey tones, there are bursts of great up-tempo rhythms that retain Hunger’s defiant dark edge, adding some fire energy to the moon dance. ‘Mad Miles’, again inspired by her recent trip to California, has the potential to be a screaming smash hit single with its sinister start, big pop chorus, distorted guitar solo middle and tidy end. Similarly ‘Love is not the Answer’, ‘Superman Woman’ and ‘We are the living’ – all examples of perfectly formed, socially-conscious, urgent 3 minute indie wonders.

The question is does Sophie Hunter really want to get into the smash and grab international pop arena that she sometimes hints at? Or is it preferable for her to stay slightly aloof in the shadowy world of underground cult status? A kind of Swiss PJ Harvey full smoldering talent and recalcitrant attitude? SUPERMOON suggests that both options are possible.

Forthcoming live gigs:
17.05 – Zürich, X-Tra
10.07 – Montreux (Montreux Jazz Festival)
25.07 – Lucerne, Blue Balls 

Disque du mois de janvier: « Thrill Addict » de Peter Kernel

Les riffs et les tripes, l’amour et l’insolence, les beats et les claques : longtemps, Peter Kernel s’est forgé sur ses instincts primaires. Ceux qui faisaient tournoyer une Barbara Lehnoff possédée sur une basse délaissée et un Aris Bassetti sombre sur sa guitare frénétique. Une incandescence de l’instant, qui brillait surtout sur scène (voir la chronique d’un de leur passage au Point Ephémère), quand le couple réinventait la danse des sens, sur les rythmes enragés de leur batteur Ema Mathis. Frissons fugaces, donc : l’émotion s’envole, les cris restent. Avec leur troisième album, le bien nommé « Thrill Addict » (accro au frisson, en VF), Peter Kernel voit encore plus loin : l’étincelle a allumé un foyer plus stable, prêt à scintiller longtemps dans l’espace (l’un des thèmes principaux de ce disque, justement).

« Tout ira bien, on a un plan et du temps » susurre Barbara, en guise de programme sur la ballade quasi cold wave « It’s Gonna be Great ». Et le plan, c’est de canaliser ces pulsions primitives du rock abrasif. Juste un exemple : Barbara la prêtresse hurleuse (« High Fever ») peut se faire douce – et à ce moment là, sur « Supernatural Powers », c’est la batterie qui déploie toute sa charge sonore. Mais surtout, le feu sacré de la guitare d’Aris Bassetti enflamme désormais toute la palette du rock, tour à tour garage post MC 5 (« You’re Flawless »), ensorceleuse comme chez Mogwai (« Your Party Suck », « Tears don’t fall in space »), décomplexée et tribale comme chez Sonic Youth (« Majestic Faya »)… La comparaison, facile, évidente, avec leurs grands aînés s’impose, encore plus que d’habitude, car « Thrill Addict », rock trip mené tambour battant et saut qualitatif important dans leur discographie, pourrait bien être leur « Daydream Nation » : le grand référent rock des années 2010, où les guitares s’envolent, mais l’émotion reste.

Peter Kernel – Thrill Addict (On The Camper)

Barbara Lehnoff et Aris Bassetti vont défendre leur album dans une longue tournée en France et en Suisse :

23/01 La Souris Verte – Epinal
24/01 Radio Z Winter Festival – Nürnberg
27/01 Showcase DRS Virus – Zürich
28/01 Studio 2 RSI – Lugano
30/01 MJC Picaud – Cannes

12/02 Le Tétris – Le Havre
13/02 L’Astrolabe – Orléans
14/02 Le Confort Moderne – Poitiers
19/02 La Centrifugeuse – Pau
20/02 MJC John Lennon – Limoges
21/02 Le Spot – Nimes
25/02 Le Point Ephemere – Paris
26/02 Pôle Etudiant – Nantes
04/03 Le Bourg – Lausanne
05/03 La Gravière – Genève
20/03 Les Cuizines – Chelles
27/03 Bad Bonn – Düdingen

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